One of the things I’ve learned in my years as a model is that the working relationship dynamic between models and photographers is very important. Although there are some general commonalities, it can often be unique from situation to situation and this is something that I thing warrants some discussion, particularly given some recent commentary I’ve read.
Models and photographers need to be able to trust one another to some degree. This can take time to develop in some cases which is why some like to do multiple shoots with the same model or photographer. If this is an option, I think it can allow for more exploration and development of concepts. But some of us only have one shoot, or at least only one shoot planned at the time, so we have to be able to develop that trust quickly, often partly through pre-shoot communications and checking references. This is also why I advocate following your instincts when you see red flags. If you cannot trust who you are shooting with, your shoot will very likely not be the best shoot it can be.
I feel that trust is often tested when new models work with more experienced photographers, particularly when younger and/or less experienced models work with more experienced, often male photographers. While I advocate that models should learn to say no, I also strongly believe that photographers should not push, pressure, convince, or coerce models to go past their limits. Trust can also be tested when a model and photographer shoot alone, and when a model wants to explore her limits. Unfortunately, we live in culture where models often feel that that photographer is in charge and “dominate” in the situation. This irks me quite a bit. Even if the photographer is more experienced, that doesn’t mean the model should feel that they can’t say no.
Along with trust comes respect and I’m not really certain which I would say comes first or if either is more or less important. Although I think we usually focus on the idea of photographers respecting models, I feel that the respect really should be mutual. I think if you respect those you work with and they respect you, a lot of the issues that we see pop up often (inappropriate behavior, flaking, etc) would be lessened quite a lot. I also feel that if you can’t respect someone, or if you feel they don’t respect you, it’s not worth shooting with them.
I think respect is something that often comes up in discussions about shooting nude. Asking someone to shoot nudes is not disrespectful. Pressuring or pushing them to do so is, but just asking in a professional way is not in itself disrespectful. I think that compensation is another topic that I think of when I think of being respectful. Asking someone to shoot trade is not disrespectful and neither is politely declining and possibly offering an alternate form of compensation (often rates). We all have to say no and decline at some point, just ask we’ll probably all be turned down for a shoot at some point as well. If we handle those situations professionally and respectfully, they don’t turn into bigger issues.
And again, although I think sometimes the issues we think of most often are those where we feel a photographer was not respectful to a model, but models should respect photographers as well. We need to understand that they are giving their time and talent as well. We should arrive on time and be clear and professional in our communication. Models shouldn’t alter images in any way without a photographer permission and should understand that generally photographers prefer to edit their own images (or to have it done by a retoucher or editor of their choice). And we should all credit each other when posting the images regardless of payment (unless some other agreement was made).
Now, I’m going to shift gears a bit… if trust and respect are in place sometimes the dynamic can become more friendly and/or playful. I experience this often when I shoot with friends. In those cases, I feel safe, I trust those people and I know they respect me so sometimes we tease each other, we make comments that might not be appropriate outside of that context, sometimes we experiment with shoots and try things that I might not be comfortable trying with someone else.
It occurred to me the other day that this more friendly dynamic that can come about is probably where some of the issues I’ve seen come from. Some people don’t understand that this is something that is developed and they assume that this behavior is appropriate with everyone when it’s not.
Modeling and model photographer are both jobs/hobbies/art that require you to work with other people and I think understanding these things is important to avoid complications and misunderstandings. I hope that this insight might be helpful and I’d love to hear your thoughts on this in the comments. You’re also welcome to share this. I think it’s an important discussion that we should all have.